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Saturday, June 16, 2007


by John Holbrook

Wanting to visit
his sister, his younger
whom he heard from friends
had taken terribly sick,
a Tibetan
she lived so far from him now
lived as he had
up to a few years ago,
yak milk soup and blood pudding
leather skin ball to kick around
under bellies of step-land ponies,
this Tibetan
the fierce winds,
lambskin blankets,
tents of hide, woven yak wool
mother father grandmother sister
grounded in warmth of dung smoke
their laughter
their small herd
nostrils steaming in frigid air
stars in abundance
campfire sparks drifting among them
one Tibetan among others
stories of nomadic life
in mother tongue
only wanted to see her again
so he crossed back
over the border
beginning a 2,000 mile trip on foot
dead of night by star light
and got caught
Chinese style
his wrists
summarily twisted behind his back,
wire of the Great
Peoples’ Republic
digging in
with each twist,
his own blood
sticky between his fingers
his swollen palms
under the weight
of it, this impenetrable will
of the Republic of China ,
billion strong,
pitted against young men,
infiltrator provocateurs,
on their only feet walking
back into country
called home,
he to comfort his ailing sister.

For this infraction
over a year
under Chinese arrest
each day questioned
each day beaten
after each question
three minutes
to think of his answer
“his sister” he said
and was beaten
for three minutes
and following a third
successive beating
a nine-minute rest
to think about the question again
his answer
the whole procedure
always in multiples of three
on and on this went
for nine months
same question same answer same beating
finally satisfied
his wasn’t
a bold attempt
to bring subversive news
of his holiness
the exiled Dalai Lama
back into “liberated” Tibet
from the Indian Province of Dharamsala,
they let up on him
three weeks to the day
they knew of his sister’s passing.

One of the lucky one’s he said
the endless numbing
in his hands now
grateful to serve
an additional six-month sentence
Some of those traveling with him
he later learned
were, without question,

John Holbrook lives and writes in Missoula, Montana. Practicing his craft for over forty years, his work has appeared in some 90 different publications. His collection Clear Water On the Swan won the 1991 Montana Arts Councils First Book Award. In 2002 Pudding House Publications published Loose Wool, River Tackle, Pencil Drafts, a chapbook of river and fishing poetry. He has worked as a teacher, an industrial diamond salesman, a machinist, a draftsman, a jack-of-all-trades laborer and house painter. He writes for discovery: something new for him, something new for his readers. He writes out of his love for the sounds of language: its tones, colors and textures; its subtle rhythms and cadences. Images and narratives unfold embracing a shared humanity. He champions an uncommon and precious natural world. He writes because he has to.